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Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico


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Entries in maintenance (37)


the hydrovane nears completion

Our Walker Bay dinghy has been converted into Eric's Filthy Work Barge, strapped to Rebel Heart's stern. It's a work platform, trash bin, safety catch for dropped tools, and because it's a hard dinghy I can use the gunwales for sawing and other manly things. 

One of the items I picked up on our recent smuggling run from San Diego is a Hydrovane. You see dear landlubber, no one actually steers the boat for long distances. Even just cruising around the bay I'll tap someone on the shoulder and say, "You look like you can steer the boat, go for it." 

But for long trips, and especially really long trips, you need to have a piece of gear that can handle steering the boat. Right now we have our little X5 wheel pilot which has faithfully steered Rebel Heart for a maybe three or four thousand miles. But it uses electricity, steers towards a compass heading, and isn't really designed for tens of thousands of miles.

The Hydrovane, however, is designed for conditions like that. It steers an angle on the wind (not a compass heading), uses no electricity, is built like a brick shit house, and acts as a secondary rudder. That last point is somewhat relevant because my own observations are that losing steerage is a primary factor in people abandoning boats. 

The install has been a major pain in the ass. I've gotten to be a fairly handy guy but this job required a lot of chops, especially because of the contours of our hull. With a flat transom and decent access, this is a one (long) day job. For me, it took about five days, three of which had me in full on ass busting mode.

More ass busting tomorrow, but I think (and hope) that the majority of pain is behind me. 


magic: saltwater into freshwater

Water into wine? Pfft, who cares? Try turning seawater into freshwater: you know, something that people actually need. And now with the mystery of reverse osmosis desalination technology Rebel Heart is able to crank out magical freshwater that tastes so good you actually say "Damn, that's a nice glass of water."

Of course the Katadyn 40e costs roughly $4,000, took me three full days to install, needs daily maintenance, and requires yearly rebuilds. 

We opted for a watermaker because we have four people onboard now and in the Sea of Cortez it gets really frigging hot. On average we consume about five gallons of water a day and the Katadyn 40e can create that in about 4-5 hours. Water isn't available in many places we're headed to in the Sea of Cortez and even where it is, finding water suited for drinking and hauling it around in jugs gets lame really fast.

The watermaker world is divided into two major categories: low amp and small yield or big power and big yield. We opted for the smaller option for a few reasons.

First off, we don't run the engine that often and certainly not when just sitting at anchor having a nice day. It's loud, it heats up the boat, and diesels like to run under load not just sitting there with a wimpy watermaker attached.

Secondly, and this is primarily regarding the CruiseRO systems, although we have a Honda 2000 generator we also don't like running that all that often and certainly not underway when it's strapped down in a bag. Carrying gasoline is also annoying.

What we've noticed about our electrical profile here in the tropics is that we're routinely in absorption charge mode from our solar panels, meaning that roughly 5-10 amps is being kept back (lost) from the batteries. So flipping on the watermaker during that phase isn't going to cause any material net loss of amp hours.

But arguablly the biggest selling point to me regarding the Katadyn PowerSurvivor 40E was nothing the Katadyn company itself did. Enter Gary, the 40E owner's best friend. Gary did the following:


Any sailor knows that buying a piece of equipment is relatively simple. Installing, using, and maintaining it is a whole different ball of wax. Have such a broad knowledge base to work from on the latter issues was what convinced me. 

We ran it for a couple of days and marveled at the technology but after looking at the near constant oil slick and seeing particulates in the water I ran the membrane preservative through it. 



stainless steel doesn't rust

One of the less glamorous jobs I've been doing has been to service various elements of our standing rigging: basically the mast itself, the booms, and the wires that hold it up. Those wires (called stays and shrouds) are connected to the hull via chainplates: stainless steel strips that are thru-bolted to re-enforced fiberglass layers in the hull itself. 

Most every form of stainless steel on a boat is, or should be, 316. Note that nowhere does anything say that it won't corrode or rust, it simply is "resistant". 

The picture here is showing one of the bolts that holds the chain plate onto the boat. Much of the material has been eaten away by pitting and crevice corrosion: the result of salt water in a rather oxygen deprived environment. How far into the bolt the corrosion goes only a hacksaw would tell me and if I had the time I just might do it. 

The chainplates themselves haven't been too bad, but once you pull them it's sort of silly to put them back considering the low cost and high piece of mind that comes from having them replaced. 


ten days to go: excellent time to sawzall the fuel tank

Yes in deed, the 36 year old fuel tank started leaking a few days ago. What great timing! I mean, I was so bored with nothing to do before we left and I'm really excited that the boat gods decided to give me this project.

Even better is that the steel tank can't really be removed, so instead I got to empty it today and then spend hours with my Sawzall ripping this to shreds. The smell is horrible and probably cancerous, the work dangerous, and at best we'll be left with a fuel tank that's maybe 1/4 of the original size.

In all honesty, it's nice that this happened before we left for Mexico. This job, however, sucks. Thanks to Overmyhead who is actually on a Union Polaris 36 and went through the same problem a few months ago. He saved me some time and gave me the pro tips on how to best cut the steel.

The boat is fairly ripped up and will be until I can finish all of this tomorrow. Of course I have to be at work 8am tomorrow, but such is life. 

I'd make some reference to "when it rains, it pours", but that's a little too on the nose since it's going to rain for the next couple of days as well. 


no-spill diesel fueling with the safety siphon

It only took me five years of spilling diesel on the decks to finally fall in love with the Safety Siphon. For under $10 I got two of them from Amazon. One for water, and one for fuel. Spilling a few cups of fresh water on the deck isn't the end of the world, but a diesel spill can be a real pain in the neck. It stinks, it stains, and it's not like the stuff is free.

Pop the Safety Siphon in, jiggle it a few times, and the siphon starts. It's just that easy. You can sit there and watch it pour, rather than attempt to man handle the damn jerry jugs like a display of performance art.


so we're in the yard now, or "on the hard" as the maritime world says

click to enlargeSo we're out of the water now, having hauled out at Shelter Island Boat Yard yesterday. The process is fairly painless, if you don't include the yard bill. It can be a bit of a downer to find out new problems from an inspection below the waterline but I dive the boat enough that nothing has, happily, been all that surprising. 

We've got a few thru-hulls replaced which got corroded, and some sea cocks operate which were stuck before. Heard a little bad news about our engine but it can wait until October when we're back in town. Basically the heat exchanger is leaking sea water across the back of the engine which although not great isn't really going to get that much worse between now and then.

The upshot is that we have new bottom paint and all the holes in the boat have functioning seacocks attached to them, which is more than could be said two days ago. The rigger showed up and pulled off the furler, so we should get our new wire forestay before we leave the yard. Hopefully. Yes, no roller furler. Already popped hanks in the yankee so we'll be officially "retro".


a video post from the bow

What does a writer do when they lack good work product? Why they use a gimmick, of course! So meet mine: a video blog.


diesel microbes doing their thing

Gross. Click to enlarge.Water ends up in a diesel tank, and up to 27 different types of bacteria can live in the barrier between the two fluids, essentially "eating" the diesel. As much as that grosses me out, I have to admit that's some pretty hardcore bacteria. I mean really, could you eat diesel?

Last year I cleaned out the tank (act one, act two) and although there are lapses in maintenance overall I'd say I keep the fuel system pretty clean.

On my twin Racor setup one of the filters was getting a lot of use and the other essentially sat idle for a year with a bit of water at the bottom. I'm not sure how many of the 27 strains of bacteria grew in that bowl, but you can see for yourself in the picture below that the gunk was pretty foul. 

Beyond cleaning your tank, there's a lot of debate about how much the "keep your tank full" wisdom really matters. Having less fuel doesn't allow more water to condense; the water is in there or it isn't. Regardless, a good biocide is in the cards. 

The only biocide that Yanmar recommends is Killem FPPF, I'm assuming because it acts in the water area and not the fuel. So if you have a water separating filter (like Racors), the biocide itself should never get into the engine. 

While I'm on my soap box, let me bash "fuel polishing". I aimed a garden hose full blast at the crud in the bowl there (which is very similar to what's on the bottom of most diesel tanks), and maybe 90% of it came off. And that's full blast with a garden hose. Fuel polishing achieves nothing like that type of pressure or agitation, and as such will even get worse results.

It's simple: if you have crap in your tanks you need to clean them out. If you clean them, you don't need to polish your fuel. And polishing your fuel won't clean your tanks. The logic is unfailing no matter how much anyone out there wants to convince themselves why they don't need to potentially cut access ports in their tanks and clean them out. 


the oil filter hierarchy (protip: buy purolator pureone)

PureOne oil filter by Purolator. Click to enlarge.As a disclaimer, I offer absolutely no evidence to back up the opinions I'm about to share. However, I've been changing my own oil since I was 16 on a variety of cars, boats, motorcycles, and fixed engines. There are existing studies, I've done a pile of research of my own, and invite you to do your own. Here's what I've found, feel free to disagree.

We'll start with the primer that there is the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) option. Rebel Heart is powered by a Yanmar 4JH2E engine, and Yanmar of course offers it's own oil filter, which is the one that shipped out when the engine was new. 

Oil filters tend to be one of the products that oil filter companies build better (and cheaper) than engine companies, and there are three big players.

The common man's filter: Fram. Our boat takes a a PH3593A, which comes in around $8 or so. Fram makes a lot of oil filters, and it's likely that you have one installed right now on your car or boat. Sadly, there are many stories of Fram filters bursting and their quality control in general is fairly crap. Many people have years of success with Fram, but in a lot of independent examinations they end up on the bottom of the quality charts.

Fram oil filter. Click to enlarge.

Making a huge jump up the quality scale from Fram is Wix, and interestingly enough the cost is roughly the same. Our Yanmar takes a 51334, which comes in at roughly the same cost as the Fram. 

Wix patented the first spin on filters in 1954, and they offer a great informational piece on their website regarding the build and makeup of an oil filter

At the top end of the filters rests the Purolator models. Taking it a step further, Purolator also has the PureONE models boasting a 99.9% filtration quality and numerous other construction quality improvements. And at least for us (running a L14459) the cost is actually a couple of dollars less than the comparable Wix and Fram models. 

According to Yanmar, "... the quality and cleanliness of lubrication oil is the single most important contributor to a healthy and long running diesel engine."

Reading about bursting Fram filters and a desire to save yourself a few bucks should point you towards the Wix or Purolator models. You'll probably be fine running Fram for your entire life, but why chance it? If you're not sure where to start next, go to the websites for Wix and Purolator. They have "matching competitor product" searching, where you can enter your Fram part number to come up with their own.


dropped $400 on some electrical stuff today

On the downside, $400 isn't exactly funny-money and I could think of things I'd rather spend it on. On the upside, $400 to prevent an electrical fire and help keep everything on the boat in top form is pretty cheap. 

Blue Sea Systems ACRFirst off, I dropped in a Blue Sea Systems ACR, or "Automatic Charging Relay". Its job is to join the battery banks when a charging current is present, and to isolate them otherwise (and when starting the engine). 

Before that I had a battery combiner that looked civil war vintage and although it's supposed to do the same thing it chewed up a lot of power just to keep itself alive and I couldn't find any form of documentation on it. The Blue Sea ACR comes well endorsed and has the notorious "forever" warranty as with most (all?) Blue Sea products.

My starting battery was past its usable life so I replaced it out with a Trojan 24SM-650. 

I also picked up two new battery switches. Rather than go with the classic on/off/both switch (which we're retaining for picking the starter's current), I really just want to be able to turn off each individual bank if needed.

Oh and let's not forget the new negative bus bar. The old one was corroded to hell and back and didn't have a lot of room left to grow. The new one is shiny and big enough for future expansion. 

And to make sure I don't melt the whole place down, there's a 150 ANL fuse block (also by Blue Sea). It's possible, I guess, to push more than 150 through the house bank. Running the windlass, broadcasting from an SSB, and energizing every other circuit might just do the trick. But chances are if 150 amps is passing through my house bank, there's a short and a fire is a couple of seconds away. 

Round all that out with 2/0 (pronounced "two ought") cables that I made myself with proper shrink sealing wraps and it's a pretty solid little setup. 

Eletrical to-do items:

  • Uninstall the old combiner and reclaim the space.
  • Get the new switches on a pretty panel in the front. 
  • Shrink wrap seal some of the older cables.
  • Get a proper fitting for the negative connection on the ACR, and a fuse to go along with it.
  • Lock the batteries down. I have boxes for *most* of them, but they're not strapped in tight enough to survive a knock down or rollover. 
  • Figure out what to do with the 1 amp trickle charge that's in addition to the "real" charge from my solar charge controller.